I've been on a Pierre Hermé streak lately. I got his Chocolate Desserts from the library, and I've been flipping through it for inspiration whenever I wanted to bake something for a friend. Last time it was the chocolate pecan caramel Tart Grenbloise. This time, I wanted something more vibrant and brightly-flavored. I was thinking about a warm chocolate blueberry tart (yes, it's a good flavor combination) until I saw the photo of the linzer tart in the front insert. It was a photo of luscious chocolate ganache being spread onto a ruby red, seed-studded tart. I knew it was linzer tart, and I just had to make it.
When I envision linzer tart, I see the latticed-top version with raspberry jam peeking out behind the bars. This version, however, adds a rich chocolate ganache on top of crumbly, cinnamon-flavored crust and homemade raspberry jam. Since I'm still recovering from the super dense chocolate cream ganache in the Tart Grenbloise, I decided to make Pierre Hermé's chocolate milk ganache instead. The result was fantastic, a perfect balance between the acidity and brightness of raspberries and the deep chocolate ganache. The chocolate milk ganache had a pleasantly light texture, somewhere between truffle filling and chocolate mousse, and it matched well with the crumbly tart shell (well, whatever was left of the tart shell, anyway... more on that story below). I purposely kept the chocolate layer thin so it wouldn't bully the other flavors (or my palette), and it worked out very well.
I like to bake for special occasions. When a dear coworker announced his departure to start a new career with the government (the suit-wearing, sunglasses-donning, UFO-investigating type), I wanted to leave him with something sweet to remember us by.
I found this recipe for Tarte Grenobloise in Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Desserts book. Traditionally, this is a double-crusted tart filled with an assortment of nuts. Pierre Hermé's version uses pecans (!), a big novelty for the French, and tucks in a layer of smooth chocolate ganache on the bottom. It's kind of like a chocolate pecan pie, Parisian style.
Traditionally, Galette des Rois is eaten on Epiphay, January 6th, to celebrate the day the Three Kings visited baby Jesus. Growing up in Texas, I'm more familiar with the New Orleans tradition of eating King Cake on Mardi Gras, which fell on February 16th this year. The New Orleans variation consists of a brioche dough filled with cinnamon sugar and topped with crystal sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of green, yellow, and purple, like this. The French version, on the other hand, is made from two disks of puff pastry filled with an almond cream filling, like this:
In an act of great cultural sacrilege, I made French-style Galette des Rois on Mardi Gras. After all, it's just as fattening as the New Orleans version, and that's what counts, right?
Puff pastry is a glorious thing, especially when it's homemade. Last week, I wanted to make king cake* (the one I filled with banana almond cream is pictured above). Initially I was going to buy ready-made puff pastry; the thought of homemade puff pastry was very intimidating. I remembered Kathleen Flinn's struggle with puff pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, where she'd go home after class and practice making puff pastry in her tiny Paris apartment. However, when the local grocery store only had the Pepperidge Farm variety made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, I gritted my teeth and decided to make my own (my beloved Trader Joe's reputedly carries all-butter puff pastry, but I could not find it).
Puff pastry works by composing multiple (we're talking hundreds, more on the exact number later) layers of high-butter dough alternating with high-flour dough. As the pastry bakes, the water from the butter layer evaporates and separates the flour layers, creating hundreds of fine layers of crisp brown dough. Traditional puff pastry starts with the high-flour dough on the outside, wrapping around a healthy block of butter. The package is then rolled out, folded upon each other tri-fold wallet fashion (think folding a piece of paper to fit an envelope), then chilled. This process is repeated six times to make 3^6 + 1 = 730 layers. Crazy, isn't it?
I first read about canelés from the Trader Joe's newsletter. I was incredulous of a pastry that could be crusty on the outside and custard-y on the inside. I'm not a big fan of buying frozen pastries, so I put it out of my mind. Then, last week, I found this entry on Chocolate & Zucchini, one of my favorite food blogs. Maybe it's the fact that she used to be a software engineer, or that she now lives in Paris, my favorite city and the magic land where pastry shops put forth jewel-like creations unseen anywhere in the states*. I was so intrigued by the recipe that I decided to make a batch in my *gasp* mini-muffin pans.
These are cute, brown butter almond cookies traditionally baked in rectangular molds so they resemble little ingots of gold. I didn't have a financier mold, so I used a mini-muffin pan. They're a little smaller than the traditional ones, but just as cute.
What distinguishes financiers from other cookies is the browned butter. You're supposed to cook butter until it's browned and smell like toasted hazelnuts.
I made crème brûlée for Valentine's Day. I don't know if it's necessarily a romantic dessert, but it was a good excuse for getting a tiny blow torch (anything that makes me happy is romantic, no?) The recipe is very simple, just cream, milk, vanilla, egg yolks, and sugar, which called for the best quality ingredients, especially the vanilla. And I mean a real vanilla bean, not extract or, god forbid, wood shavings in alcohol.
In honor of Valentine's Day, I decided to make some truffles to bring to work (Okay fine, I just wanted an excuse to make truffles). To add a Chinese New Year inspired twist, I infused the cream with ground, toasted sesame seeds. In addition, I strained out the sesame pieces before adding hot cream to the chocolate so the ganache would retain it's smooth mouthfeel.
Sesame excitement aside, I followed Robert Linxe's chocolate truffle recipe as posted here by Smitten Kitchen. A trip to Sur La Table resulted in a kilogram tablet (that's 2.2 lbs of chocolately goodness) of Valrhona 61% dark chocolate. It completely dwarfed the Trader Joes Pound Plus bar I had gotten the previous day.
This is the first recipe I'm trying out from Paris Sweets. I wanted to bring something to the Super Bowl party, and I had ground almonds on hand. The recipe was super easy, especially with the help of a food processor. The dough mixture was very sandy, but it came together easily enough with a good squeeze.